I initially assumed that questions of both a pure and an applied nature could be asked on this site. However I seem to get downvoted or told to post on a Physics site quite often when I ask an applied question!

Coming from a Maths department that is about a 50:50 split, I don't really understand this. Surely this site should either be renamed "PureMath" or we should allow applied maths questions too. Am I alone in thinking this?

Here are the questions

Question A

Question B

Here's another example, if a little more delicately put, and nothing to do with me!

I thought there was another but perhaps the comment got deleted!

  • $\begingroup$ Can you provide links to the questions you think were downvoted because they are «applied», in order to make this more concrete? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ You read my mind. I checked back and I think the downvotes were for different reasons in fact. I'll edit my question appropriately. The suggestions to post on Physics sites still stand! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ Oh and apologies for the confusion! Haven't been on the site for a few weeks! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ Oh well. Can you provide links to the questions which got you told to repost them on a Physics site, in order to make this more concrete? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ Done. It seems that I can find an example of both in questions I've asked! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 23:06
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    $\begingroup$ Just because some individual users post comments suggesting that you try the physics site doesn't mean that there's a site consensus is that your question is unwelcome. It's not as if there is a secret site junta that actively approves such suggestions in advance. (People asking questions in the overlap between math and computer science routinely have to run the same gauntlet, bu the way). $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm: thanks for the clarification, and the humour :). Just wanted to make sure I wasn't repeatedly committing a site faux pas! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ Question A has been removed! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 23:03

1 Answer 1


The problem with your example A has nothing to do with pure-vs-applied, I think... I think that, given what you say you'd be better off asking a physicist about that! In any case, that sort of very soft questions which are much better asked to an actual advisor often get down votes, even if one is asking about advice on planning a PhD the purest subject you can think of.

Your example B has no downvotes, and no suggestions to move the question elsewhere, but it does have three votes to close. It is impossible to know what those voters were thinking, but IMO the question is written in the form one would use to communicate to physicists, so that probably explains why people think it is off-topic.

(Incidentally, it is never better to say «the book I am reading» than «the book such-and-such»)

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your prompt response! Why do you think I would be better off asking a physicist than an applied mathematician? Surely an applied mathematician with pure interests would be much better informed than a physicist? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ For one thing, essentially all applied mathematicians I know would be surprised to find the math related to string theory classified as applied math... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ Ah okay, so generally applied mathematicians would class that as pure math. Physicists on the other hand would know more about it? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ If I did not think so, why would I have already suggested that you'd be better off asking a physicist? :) Of course, the ideal would be asking someone who is in the middle, but those do not abound here—you have greater chances of getting someone fitting that description to see your question in the physics site, I think. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ Just clarifying that I understood you correctly! I'll go ask on a Physics site then, and see what response I get! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ At my school, we can get a PhD in Pure Math or Applied Math. I'm doing pure math, but based on my understanding, the people who go to Applied Math are doing differential equations or numerical analysis. On the other hand, pure math includes abstract algebra, linear algebra, topology, number theory, representation theory, graph theory, category theory. Complex analysis and real analysis are sort of in between, i.e., both groups use that stuff. Any way, math for complicated physics would be representation theory, so that's going to fall under pure math (at my school). Would others agree? $\endgroup$
    – GeoffDS
    Commented Jul 13, 2012 at 16:33

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